Running a Lean Organization
What comes to mind when you think of lean? For me, it is an Olympic sprinter. A mass of lean muscle, trimmed of all excess, with each muscle fiber playing a critical role in propelling the machine forward. For others, it could be the archetypical lean startup, providing quality service to customers while going without much of the overhead costs associated with more established organizations. The concept of lean in business development is very similar. The idea is to maximize value while minimizing waste.
A lean organization then, is one that understands what value means to their customers/clients and focuses their essential processes to maximizing this value while minimizing resources that do not contribute to this goal. Ultimately, the goal is to develop organizational processes that allow for zero waste while maximizing value to the customer.
Aligning these processes directly with maximizing value to the customer offers several advantages. By trimming off the excess, these processes require less human effort, less space, and less capital while lowering the time it takes to deliver value to the customer compared with traditional, full bodied, organizational systems. These advantages allow companies to respond to changing consumer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times, a significant competitive advantage.
Demystifying the principles of lean
A popular misconception is that lean is only applicable to the manufacturing industry or industries that create physical products. However, lean is a way of thinking and acting that can be implemented at any organization.
Businesses today are already using lean principles to gain a competitive edge. Companies like Facebook and Amazon started out as lean startups and made it a priority to maintain that framework as they scaled. Their success is a testament to how big of an impact adopting lean in your organization can make. Such an impact is not something that is achieved by a short-term program, but requires a long-term commitment and the perseverance to see it through.
Implementing Lean in your organization
So how does one go about implementing Lean in their organization? Implementing lean requires an organizational restructuring that can be broken down into three categories:
First and foremost, an organization needs to be 110% sure of what value they provide to their customer or client.
What critical processes need to be assessed to make sure that each piece is valuable, capable, available, adequate, flexible? Too often, managers get caught up in cutting corners with pieces of the puzzle in attempts to be lean. Opting for cheaper software or making due with fewer employees. While by themselves, each of these actions could be viewed as good attempts to minimize resources, they often have a negative impact on the value provided to the customer. To avoid short sighted attempts at being lean, entire value streams need to be assessed to understand how best to structure critical processes and work flows to maximize value and minimize waste.
Assessing processes is fine and dandy, but without key players in the organization on board, all that work is in vain. An organization needs to ensure that every critical process has someone responsible for continually evaluating its impact on providing value to the customer. Everyone involved in this process needs to have internalized the philosophy of lean and should strive to execute with that as their guide.
Running a lean organization requires every piece of it to be aligned and working together towards the same purpose. Like an Olympic sprinter, a well-oiled lean organization will be free of any excess, and positioned to increase value with each step.
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